For about the next 10 hours, the Senate will be doing nothing but listening.
Republicans have deployed a particularly irritating delaying tactic to keep healthcare legislation from moving forward, insisting that the clerk read the entire text of an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., before debate on the amendment can begin. (The amendment would open Medicare to all Americans, setting up a government-run single-payer healthcare system, and is virtually guaranteed not to pass.) GOP leaders unleashed the plan, with some rhetoric about making sure lawmakers knew what they were voting on, earlier Wednesday.
Reading the entire text could take 10 to 12 hours. Usually, the Senate avoids such delays by getting unanimous consent to consider bills read after the clerk gets a few words in. But Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., objected twice to a request from Sanders to skip the reading, leaving Sanders shaking his head in disgust.
The stunt was intended to make life difficult for Democrats, by wasting hours of time that could be used to debate the bill so a vote can be held before Christmas as planned. But Democratic leadership aides point out it could also make life difficult for the military.
The current spending bill for the Department of Defense expires at midnight Saturday night, so Congress needs to pass next year's bill before then. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had planned to file cloture on the Defense bill Wednesday, which would allow for the Senate to vote Saturday. Now the reading may mean that vote on the military spending legislation gets pushed back to Sunday.
Technically, that could mean the military has no funds for several hours Saturday night. The actual impact would probably be negligible, but look for Democrats to start asking why the GOP is jeopardizing the troops in order to delay progress on healthcare.